Escape from Christendom by Robert Burnell (originally published in 1980- Bethany House Publishers; 2nd publication MorningStar Journal- 1st quarter 1992)
The Wilderness of Worship
“Water! Who would have thought that in the middle of this desert there would be a sea! ” the traveler is exclaiming to himself when next I see him in my dream. From the brow of a mammoth dune he looks down into an expanse of blue stretching to the horizon. “But no, it isn’t water,” he remembers. “The old man on the mountain pointed to this as the beginning of the second wilderness.” As he descends the hills to its edge, the strange sea of sand is not as flat as seen from above. There are waves of blue extending into the distance like a frozen ocean. “Perhaps there is a relationship between this and the ‘sea of glass’ before the throne of God. Perhaps the waves will flatten out as I approach the city of God.”
Suddenly a person of unearthly beauty is standing a few feet away from the traveler. “Greetings,” the being says. “It’s a long way across this stretch. Many have perished trying to make it on foot. I offer you a better way.”
“A better way?” asks the traveler.
“Yes, I have the power to cross this wilderness in a split-second. And if you let me, I can have you safe on the other side directly.”
“What must I do?”
“All I require is a token act. If you will merely kneel to pay me homage, I will lift you across this wilderness with the speed of light.”
“But that would be to worship you, wouldn’t it?”
“Why do you find that strange? People do it every day. You also did it yourself long before you came to this wilderness. The citizens often worship me in Christian City. Some there worship money- serve it like slaves. Their eyes light up at the thought of it. But the love of money is only a symbol of my reality.”
“You aren’t reaching me with your talk of money. It’s never been a problem in MY life,” the traveler retorts.
“How about romance? What could be more beautiful or innocent than being in love? But when the state of being in love becomes the goal and dominates the mind, there is idolatry involved. And it is ‘yours truly’ behind that idol,” he says triumphantly. “But the most personally satisfying worship I receive comes from men and women who are pursuing religious successes.”
“Well,” the traveler cuts his boasting short, “If I have to worship you in exchange for a quick trip across this wilderness, I’ll gladly walk, if it takes forever!”
I soon hear the traveler reasoning with himself again: “In Christian City it is possible to go through all the surface motions of faith in God while one’ s real worship, the thing that obsesses the mind day and night, is idolatry. Now that I have left there I can survive only if I’m lost in the worship of God. God has said: ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it’s brings forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people, the people whom I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise.'”
“Perhaps such worship can be formed only in this desert, with its dryness and pounding heat, searing light and eerie silence.”
These reflections are interrupted by a sudden crescendo of indescribable music, singing of unearthly beauty. Voices seem to be everywhere. Yet no one is visible. From the top of a blue wave, the traveler sees seven people standing in a hollow with their hands raised heavenward, uttering their praises to God. But the singing has the fullness of a song of millions! Then the traveler opens his mouth and out of it also rushes a torrent of praise to God. In the midst of this music, his mysterious companion returns. Filled with joy, the traveler tells her, “Do you notice how the seven worshipers are really surrounded by a multitude of magnificent beings whose voices blend with theirs? I feel that out here in the desert I have, in a mystery, already entered the outskirts of the City of God.”
His companion responds with a passage from Scripture:
“But you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and innumerable angels in festal gatherings,and to the assembly of the firstborn, who are enrolled in Heaven, and to a judge, who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel… Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that can not be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
After some time the song ceases. Everything becomes still. No one is in sight but the seven worshipers, who bid the traveler God’s peace and file over the dune, leaving him alone with his companion. She leads him to a rushing stream and provides him another meal.
“So this is the Wilderness of Worship,” exclaims the traveler, still in awe from his experience.
“Yes, here Christians learn to worship God the Father in spirit and truth. You might call it the outer court of the City of God; for as you have seen, the inhabitants of that City are all around you. Back in the Wilderness of Forgiveness you began to experience the power of Jesus’ blood cleansing your inmost heart. Here in the Wilderness of Worship you received His Holy Spirit. God baptizes you with power from on high in order for you to worship Him with a worship which, in the wilderness beyond, will take the shape of deeds. Joel 2 tells us: ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit of all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the men servants and maid servants in those days, I will pour out My Spirit.'”
“I have never experienced such worship as this. But will it last? asks the traveler. “Will I still be able to worship the living God with such grace in the deserts beyond?”
“Changes are taking place in you which, if you let them, will last forever. Your heart is being opened by the outpoured Spirit. Your mouth is being open to speak as God gives you utterance- ‘Your sons and daughters shall prophesy.’ And your eyes are being opened to see visions and dream dreams. You are receiving eyes which see God.”
“But don’t these things happened back in Christian City? I am told that this sort of thing goes on in the Apostolic Church of the Future every Sunday night.”
“The difference, brother, is that here you do not merely taste worship or dabble in worship. Here in the desert you are lost in the worship of God so that all your praise and thanksgiving go to Him. Everything you do is done for Him.”
“But isn’t there a danger of fanaticism?”
“Fanatics worship principles, ideas, human personalities, and even demons, but never God. Consuming worship of God is the doorway, not to fanaticism, but to liberty such as you have never known. When you’re lost in the worship of God, you no longer worship such things as money, romance, or success. You have found the one true object of worship, and as you worship Him you are fulfilled.”
With these words his companion departs. Once again the traveler is alone on a sea of blue sand, lost in the worship of God.
The Wilderness of Prayer
Now the sea of sand comes to an abrupt end in the foothills of a fiery mountain range. There is no vegetation, only walls of dry, hard, burning rock. Bones cluttering the sand at the base of the rocky barrier are mute testimony to the dangers of this desolate land. The traveler fixes his gaze on the cross shaped star as he walks, and recites to himself:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Hearing voices in the distance, the traveler follows the path at the foot of the mountain toward them. There the path abruptly turns into a gash in the mountain. Entering in the opening, he listens as a voice echoes and resounds with such intensity that no words can be distinguished. Moving deep into this rocky pass, the traveler nears a huge wrought iron arch under which a man is addressing an assembly of men and women.
“This is the way, believe me,” pleads the man, his words now distinct. “This narrow gate to my left is so rusty it will hardly swing. Who in his right mind would want to follow that steep path, when this well paved, well travelled way is open and ready? Come through this gate and you will be out of the wilderness before the day is over. Good food and a clean bed await you at the other end. There are prayer meetings arranged at the rest stops every hour along the way.”
Without hesitation the traveler passes under the wrought iron arch and proceeds down the road. Others join in. The route on which he now walks is smooth and pleasant in contrast to the blue sand he just plodded through. A sign repeats the information that there are rest stops every hour, consisting of a prayer meeting and a light lunch.
At the first such stop he talks with a pleasant hostess: “I’ve come a long way. Please tell me where this path is taking us.”
She smiles and replies, “You will be beautifully housed and will be taken care of. Your journey will be over by nightfall.”
The traveler walks on, increasingly perplexed. Just as darkness begins to fall after a scenic journey through the rocks and trees, he finds himself on the brow of a hill looking down on a city.
“Welcome!” exclaims a man standing beneath a wrought iron arch identical to the arch through which he had passed earlier.
“Thank you,” replies a traveler. “But where am I?”
“Why, this is Christian City!”
Without another word the traveler turns and runs back the way he came. With Christian City out of sight, he slows to a walk but doesn’t stop until he’s reached the other arch, the end of the false path. He cries out,”I have only one desire: to find that narrow gate and enter it before I take a single rest. How could I have been so blind? Of course a wide gate would lead to Christian City, the place where one can have his ease- never have to deny himself, take risks, suffer any pain or lose any sleep,” he adds bitterly.
Finally the traveler discovers the old rusty gate. So narrow he can barely squeeze through, the gate has been almost obliterated by weeds and vines.
Daybreak finds him on a narrow path winding up through scarlet rocks. There is a hum in the air as of the wind through trees, but neither wind, nor trees are found here. The hum grows louder and finally can be distinguished as a chant of many voices. Now the traveler sees the people on the path ahead. He has become part of a procession of people moving toward the City of God. As they walked they are each talking earnestly to someone unseen. Some of them are crying. Some seem exuberant. Some are mentioning people’s names and asking good things for them. Some ask their neighbors ahead or behind for help, but their main concern is with their unseen listener.
The traveler’s mysterious companion now returns and addresses him. “Here in the Wilderness of Prayer the contrast with Christian City is extreme, you know. There, they do have prayer meetings and people pray before they go to bed. When life becomes difficult, their prayers become intense, until the crisis passes. But in the Wilderness of Prayer, prayer becomes one’s way of life- a source of one’s whole existence. The time has come for you to be lost in the life of prayer. Meditate on these passages in the Gospel of Luke,” she adds, handing him a sheet of paper on which is written:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art My beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
But so much the more the report went abroad concerning Him; and great multitudes gathered to hear Him and to be healed of their infirmities. But He withdrew to the wilderness and prayed (Luke 5:15-16).
In those days He went out into the hills to pray; an all night He continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles… (Luke 6:12-13).
Now about eight days after these sayings He took with Him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountains to pray. And when He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became glistening white (Luke 9:28-29).
He was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).
And He came out, and went- as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed Him. And when He came to the place He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed… (Luke 22:39-41).
And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:33-34).
“A prayer life is something we engage in alone, yet it brings us into fellowship with God and man as nothing else will,” his companion tells him when he has finished reading. “Prayer is going to God, to the Father’s door, and asking for bread so that you can give it to your needy brother. When you knock and keep knocking it always opens. Always. Out of that communion with God comes something you share with others. And as you share what God gives you, you have communion with them. A person will have this communion even if he’s shy or clumsy. For this life of prayer delivers one from the fear of other people’s opinions and the fear of one’s own blunders.”
“But does it take these eerie mountains, these cliffs, this continuous danger to learn to pray?” asks the traveler.
“Well, in the past you cried to God in your occasional emergencies. Here you are learning to see life as a continuous crisis, driving you to call on God day and night. ‘Shall not God vindicate His elect who cry to Him day and night?’ The clearer our vision of what happens in the world- how close to the edge of chaos the nations are- the more we understand that the only way to know life is to come close to God the Father in prayer, to cry to Him day and night. We pray without ceasing because the crisis in earthly life is never over.”
“But why does it all have to be so hard? It looks to me that the climb through these mountains is the toughest part of the journey yet.”
“Because prayer is our main work. It takes thought, concentration, an active will and the best of one’s strength to pray for the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of God’s Kingdom, to pray for laborers in the harvest, or to pray for specific people and their needs. You have barely begun to scratch the surface of the awesome things that wait to be done in answer to your prayers, if you will keep going.”
“That’s it, though! To keep going, I’m getting so tired.”
“This is because your prayers are becoming engaged in the Real Battle. Prayer is the ground where we overcome evil with good. In these mountains you will learn to pray for your enemies. The life of overcoming evil with good starts with asking that good will come to those who have done evil to us.”
The narrow path leads to a lookout where the traveler and his companion share a meal. Afterwards they walk to the edge of the lookout where she points to the path winding down through the mountains which diminished in size until somewhere near the horizon they appear to reach their end.
“You see, there begins the Harvest,” the traveler’s companion says, pointing to a view beyond them. “Remember these words which Jesus said:
‘Do not say, there are yet four months, then comes the harvest? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor, others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
The traveler looks into the distance while his companion explains further: “In Christian City, remember, there is a fine, wide street called Missionary Boulevard, lined with spacious well-kept buildings and adorned with fountains and lawns and lovely shrubs. Those buildings house every missionary enterprise known in the Christian world. There are headquarters for literature outreach, editorial offices for elaborate missionary magazines, and smaller facilities that provide a prayer letter service for lesser-known laborers. There are studios that produce world literature telethons and videotapes from missionary appeals. These are institutions that offer refresher courses for missionaries on furlough, and a computerized itinerary service for missionaries who need to broaden their financial base. There are recruiting centers, rest facilities for retired missionaries, and even a budding record company. But lately Missionary Boulevard has been thrown into a panic by some disturbing news. Word has been received that large numbers of missionaries have committed the unpardonable breach of missionary etiquette: instead of taking as their mission field the approved territory of the known world, missionaries have plunged into the desert toward the City of God.
“But what kind of mission field is this desert?” the traveler asks. “Whose soul are you going to save in the Wilderness of Forgiveness except your own? And when you get to the Wilderness of Worship, everyone there is already alive with God’s glory. In the Wilderness of Prayer there is wonderful communion with other travelers, and I’m learning to intercede. But there aren’t any lost souls…”
(To be continued: see link below)
For deeper insight into how GOD the Father sees His children; to better understand the elementary principles of Christ (Hebrews 6:1-3); the ‘mysteries’ of Christ’s Kingdom; and our individual and corporate calling, commission, and empowerment- please review my first published book and the Table of Contents on the Amazon website linked here via Book Title: “Thy Kingdom Come- Here and Now!”
Hillsong- This is Our God